At 40, I think that maybe I understand life a little better. Maybe. But one thing I know for sure is that we are far from being fully in control of our own destiny.
Approaching 40, many people I know begin to realise their mortality. If it’s not because of their own circumstances, then it is through the experience of friends.
Between 20 - 30, all you see is your potential, your goals, your growing ability, your strengths, your stepping stone to a bigger salary and your family that you are going to start. Basically, just starting the race of trying to get ahead in this world.
However things start to happen later, if not to yourself, then to your friends. Around this time, some people begin to realise that not everything is within their control.
Sometimes an illness creeps in or a tragedy occurs in the family. Some get deeply disappointed when the man/woman that they want to marry reject them. Those who do get married slowly discover that the union is not so blissful, but find it difficult to separate. Others divorce, not because they want to, but find that their spouse don’t want them anymore, and they've already started a family.
Some suffer illness that is partly due to lifestyle, but for others, it is totally out of their control. One of my readers who was FB friend succumbed to leukemia at a relatively young age, just a few days after he asked me about the viability of a long term investment.
Right now, there are people I know who are fighting hard against life threatening disease, having to sacrifice their career at the prime of their lives.
There are also those who started very brightly, but have given up on life after suffering a disappointment, which really on the overall scheme of things, is really not that important, but to them is a major issue that cannot be overcome.
We are really not in total control of our lives. You can help yourself succeed, but at the end of the day you can only influence what is within your control. I and those who submit to God believe it is His will while others may attribute it to randomness.
I learned this a long time ago. I was at the peak of my physical powers, had just been selected to attend a field hockey talent camp in 1992, comprising of the best U-18 players in Malaysia. It was organised by Terry Walsh, an Australian who was the national coach at that time. By the end of the camp, the coaches selected me as one of the three best players.
Imagine, top three in Malaysia for that age group. I was convinced that I would go on to represent the country. That was all I wanted to do. All I needed to do was to train hard, harder than others and I will achieve my goal How wrong was I.
Later that year I had a chronic injury, which was rather mysterious as nobody could diagnose it properly (in the old days you just don’t do an MRI as and when you liked it). Only after two years, an MRI was done and doctors detected the problem and a surgery was performed to solve the problem.
I did manage to get back and play at the state and national league level one and half years after the surgery, but my chance to be a star was gone after the three year layoff. It was probably too late to play for the national team as I had been out for so long, and had to work hard just to get back.
Yet the upshot to this was that I had to readjust my priorities, and actually realised what is important in life. I would probably have never got married at 26 had I not got injured and went on to become a national player and fulfilled another ambition to play in a foreign league.
I may not even have had the opportunity and time to meet ant woo my wife, with whom God has blessed me with three kids. Would have also definitely not written the books (in Malay) that I wrote.
The path I’m currently on was not the path that I had initially chosen. But by the grace of God, I really hope that this is the correct one. Yes sometimes I wish I had just pushed further after the return from injury to succeed in the sport, but my worldview had changed and I no longer had the drive.
At that time, I had a conversation with Dharmaraj, who was recently appointed the national coach. He was just starting out as a coach and I had a stint with a team under his charge He said that I may have lost just a little bit of pace after the very long layoff. I told him not really, but I know there was something missing, just that I didn’t know what was it at that time.
Now I realise that what I had I actually lost is the motivation to train as hard as when I was younger, to reach the physical level where I could regain the peak condition that was required at the very top level. Simply put, the injury had led me to question my priorities.
If you ask someone who is stricken by a life threatening disease, they will tell you that health and keeping healthy is the most important thing in the world, when previously they would have aimed for the sky in their career.
It may not be a good idea to give the impression to bright and talented youngsters that they will definitely succeed if they work hard and have a happy life. Some will succeed, but sometimes circumstances outside their control would not permit success as they had initially envisaged. Working hard is necessary but success is not guaranteed. It is possible that we just need to find a different way or another route to success or fulfilment.
Some people voluntary take one or several steps back when faced with an obstacle. Others encounter setbacks that are forced upon them and totally out of their control. We can only reassess the situation and make the best of the cards that we’re dealt with. Who knows, the realignment of priorities may actually set you on a better path.
The biggest mistake is to lose your enthusiasm and spirit and give up on life. Success and happiness can come in many different forms. There are so many ways you can contribute and make a difference, even under the most difficult circumstances.
Life is not a linear progression. Difficulties will come, but I believe we must accept any setback or step back, turn the situation around, and strive towards further progress. Flatlining towards retirement and death is just not a viable option.
Note: The meaning of flatline is either death, remaining static or failing to improve. All three look the same to me. Photo from fastcompany.com.